UVM president responds to Burlington mayor on COVID-19 testing and protocols

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UVM president responds to Burlington mayor on COVID-19 testing and protocols

Mon, 08/10/2020 - 10:48am -- tim

From University of Vermont President Suresh Garimella

August 10, 2020 VIA EMAIL

Mayor Miro Weinberger City of Burlington
City Hall
49 Church Street Burlington, VT 05401

Dear Mayor Weinberger:

Thank you for your letter outlining your concerns about the University of Vermont’s Safe Return to Campus plan. I agree that it is critical for both UVM and the City of Burlington to do everything we can to ensure that the return of students to campus in the fall does not lead to a surge in cases of COVID-19. I am confident UVM is doing its part.

As you know, we worked closely with Governor Scott’s office and in consultation with the Vermont Department of Health, as well as our own internationally recognized public health and infectious disease experts, in the development of UVM’s plan. I am proud to say that it not only meets the Governor’s standards, it exceeds many of them, and is one of the most stringent plans of any university in the nation. On Friday, Vermont Health Commissioner Mark Levine also expressed his confidence in our approach.

RELATED: A commentary by UVM president Suresh Garimella on the university’s testing program appeared in today’s edition of the national higher education publication, Inside Higher Ed. 

UVM’s plan reflects the state’s commitment to maintaining a safe community through data-driven travel restrictions and quarantine measures. In fact, even the 3,600 or so UVM students who are Vermonters (a large number of whom are year-round Burlington residents) will need to undergo pre-testing and Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration (VOSHA)-approved training before they can set foot on campus. Employees must also complete VOSHA training.

All students living in the Burlington City area are required to sign the Green and Gold Promise and will face ramifications for non-compliance, including fines, parent notification, and suspension. Anyone— including any member of the Burlington community—is able to submit a student conduct incident report. Of the 25 letters sent so far to tenants and landlords of addresses of concern, only two addresses have had additional issues. Two students wrote letters of apology.

Our COVID-19 testing protocol is more aggressive than any college in the state of Vermont, and one of the most aggressive in the entire nation. Students will be required to take weekly PCR tests supplied by the Harvard/MIT-affiliated Broad Institute, which has assured us of their ability to return tests within 24 hours. Employees may also access this weekly testing. All testing will be done without charge to students or employees. After September 18, with results from 4-6 weeks of testing (depending on their arrival dates) for students, our medical/epidemiological advisors will consider the testing data and recommend the frequency of future testing based on their scientific analysis.

UVM also has developed rigorous quarantine and isolation protocols for students who test positive or have had meaningful exposure to someone who is positive for the coronavirus. Students will receive simple, direct, and comprehensive instructions. These will include specific details regarding how to safely and effectively quarantine or isolate when in a shared house or apartment, much like a family who has a member of the household who must quarantine or isolate. These students will receive daily check-ins to monitor their status and reinforce quarantine and isolation restrictions, and reminders that they will be suspended if these regulations are not strictly followed. For students whose living situation makes it difficult to safely and effectively quarantine or isolate, we have partnered with the Vermont Department of Health to provide an alternative location.

University personnel in Student Health Services are trained and prepared to participate in meticulous, comprehensive, and timely contact tracing in coordination with the Vermont Department of Health. These protocols have already proven successful. Since off-campus students’ arrival in early June, we have tested 1157 asymptomatic students and only five tested positive from June 8 through July 31, reflecting a 0.4% positivity rate. We have been able to contain any spread. Since March 13 we have tested 162 symptomatic off-campus students. Ten tested positive, and all recovered with no spread. Thus, the total students tested from mid-March through July was 1319, and those testing positive was 1%, with no spread.

Unlike students who reside on campus, students who reside off campus as residents of the City are not under the direct supervision of the University while they are off campus. That said, we are committed to enforcing COVID-19 regulations and protocols for all UVM students. We have been working in neighborhoods all spring and summer to educate students on their community impacts and responsibilities. This includes a communication from UVM Provost Patty Prelock and Vice Provost for Student Affairs Annie Stevens targeted to off-campus students outlining expectations and underscoring the use of sanctions if students do not abide by the Green and Gold Promise and Student Code of Conduct.

I recognize that you and your office have the best interests of the City of Burlington at heart and we share that commitment. But I urge you to view our Safe Return to Campus plan and related efforts not as a collection of discrete items, but as a comprehensive strategy that is the result of months of research and planning. This strategy reflects the guidance of our Governor, our public health experts, and the CDC, as well the many conversations our team has had with you, your office and your constituents.

In partnership, Suresh

Suresh Garimella President
University of Vermont

Further reference (the letter also provided these links as attachments):